After reading Leguin’s She Unnames Them, I thought of a conversation that happened in my English 1510 class a semester ago. The professor brought to our attention a modern debate of labeling and differentiating groups of people. She asked us if labeling and grouping people is too much, or is the act necessary.
I think this relates back to Leguin’s work, because it brings up the question of self identification and identity in general. Names, social groups, and just classifications in general, I think, approach on the universal themes of identity and intersectionality. In She Unnames Them, I found it interesting that the animals who were more domesticated, and closer to humans, seemed to care more about names, and were more reluctant to give them up. But rather those animals that had multiple names and contacted less with humans, seemed to not care as much about not having names anymore. I think that by differentiating between these animals and connecting them to humans, the act sheds light on the power that society has on the individual. In a pet’s world, obviously humans are its owners and dominates its life. So when such a powerful position gives the pet a name and essentially an identity, the animal will be more reluctant to give up the name rather than to morph itself into the name and identity. Therefore when society gives someone an identity and something to hold on to for the rest of his/her life, the person will try and try to fit in this invisible boundary because when he/she fits in, she/he will feel more acceptance in being normal rather than who she/he actually is.
Labels and names are basically channels in which we receive acceptance and at least social positivity. However, in Leguin’s piece, there are no names, but the narrator somehow feels closer to these animals, and names are described as “clear barriers.” Thus, I believe that Leguin is trying to tell the audience that there can be social acceptance without names or labels, because without them everyone becomes the same. Everyone is equal and no one is contained within a certain category.
In my opinion, I really like the idea of equality and respect without grouping people into different brackets, but I also think that this idea is almost utopian and cannot be applied to humans. I think that Leguin also realized that humans are just too complicated and interwoven that our society needs these clear distinctions because throughout human history, whether it be racism or just names, there has always been this inevitable automatic characterization built into our nature. You can call it prejudice, or a survival instinct, but I believe that though humans have elaborate social and government constructs, we are not necessary advanced in terms or accepting and respecting each other. Therefore, we need labels even though they may cause inequality and injustice. Whereas animals live simpler lives and have simpler social constructs that are not as binding as ours. Anyway, I really enjoyed this piece, I think it’s very thought provoking and insightful in general.